[Pass the Flamingo April Fool’s Edition] Dining with the Golden Girls (Florida, 1985-1992 CE)


“Picture it: Miami, 1987…Four women, friends. They laugh, they cry, they eat. They love, they hate, they eat. Every time you turn around, they eat.”
~ Sophia Petrillo

Over the course of seven seasons and 180 episodes, the four Golden Girls did a lot of eating. Many of the show’s most memorable scenes started or ended around their Miami kitchen table (which mysteriously had three chairs, despite four people living in the house). They’re most famous for their passionate love affair with cheesecake, but in practice, the girls were as indiscriminate with food as they were with…never mind.

While Blanche was the least domestic (she couldn’t pronounce the word “bleach”), and Dorothy’s cupcakes were “dry and tasteless,” the other two women of the house were frequently seen cooking. Their tastes, however, could not have been more different.


Related imageAs the archetypal strong-willed Sicilian grandma, Sophia Petrillo is fiercely proud of her skill in the kitchen. She claims that her cooking saved her marriage, and that she nearly went into the frozen pizza business with Mama Celeste. Throughout the show’s run, Sophia makes many Italian and Italian-American dishes, from baked ziti to zabaglione, a wine-flavored custard. Her most cherished recipe is salsa grandiosa, a sauce prepared once a year in her home village on the Festival of the Dancing Virgins. Passed down through Sophia’s family for centuries, it has 152 ingredients, with each new generation improving upon the recipe in some way (“it was my great-grandmother who added heat.”)

Sophia often clashes with those who do not share her taste in food. She discretely dumps sushi into her purse while on a date with a Japanese guy and walks off the set of a pizza commercial when she tastes their “mighty lousy” product. At home, she derides Rose’s cooking as “garbage” and “Scandinavian crap on a cracker,” while Rose, with her trademark innocence, unknowingly insults Sophia by comparing her to Chef Boyardee.


Image result for rose nylund cookingRose Nylund has a penchant for traditional recipes from her hometown of Saint Olaf, Minnesota, the peculiar names and flavors of which are a frequent punchline. Most of these dishes are made up to sound vaguely Scandinavian, playing off the character’s Nordic heritage. Rose’s mouth waters at the thought of eggs gafloofen or pigs in a svengabluten, and her housemates are revolted by the stench of sparehuven krispies until she explains that if you hold your nose while eating, they taste like strawberries and ice cream.

Some of Rose’s Saint Olafian recipes are based on real Nordic ones. These include her (in)famous fish balls, a common sight on Scandinavian tables, and her herring pie, which sounds similar to Norwegian fiskegrateng (fish au gratin), a creamy baked casserole. In one episode Rose serves Swedish stuffed cabbage leaves called kåldolmar (the name is related to Greek dolma, stuffed grape leaves). In another episode, Rose prepares a “Saint Olaf friendship cake” called vanskapkaka to win over an unfriendly coworker (Rose: “Want to see my vanskapkaka?” Sophia: “Only if I don’t have to show you mine.”) Vänskapkaka really does mean “friendship cake” in Swedish, and although the dish is fictional, its name resembles a genuine Swedish dish called “visiting cake.” According to legend, this lemon cake topped with a sweet almond crust got its name from its preparation; so easy that if you start when visitors are coming up your driveway, you can have the cake ready by the time they sit down for coffee.

But for the most part, Saint Olaf’s culinary delights, from gerfloogenblergen to yak intestine crackers, belong to the realm of fantasy. Not that fantasy stopped someone from creating an entire Pinterest board with recreations of Rose’s recipes.



True Golden Girls fans know that in the pilot episode, the girls had another culinary expert among them: Coco, a gay male live-in cook. The only thing he’s seen making is enchiladas rancheras (Dorothy: “Why don’t you just shoot me?”), and after Season One, Episode One, he never appears or is spoken of again.

The official in-universe explanation for Coco’s disappearance is that after Sophia moves in with the girls in the pilot episode, she takes over the cooking. The actual explanation, according to a 2015 Atlantic article, is much more interesting. Coco was not originally part of the show’s concept. Concerned how audiences would react to a sitcom with an all-female main cast–a novelty at the time–the network introduced him to provide a male point of view, and made him gay so there would be no sexual tension within the house. The girls were so well-received by audiences that Coco was written out as unnecessary, with many of his jokes, like his job, going to Sophia. Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia and Rose would spend the next seven seasons as a quartet, sharing food as they shared laughter, one-liners and love.

pizzadammit 5 Tips For This Weekends Golden Girls Bar Crawl

Happy April Fool’s Day!*

* Also Easter. Also the anniversary of the accession of the Roman Emperor Majorian, the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, and the birth of Rachmaninoff. There’s always something to be happy about.

Ancient Recipe: Patina de Rosis [Baked Brains & Roses] (Roman, ca. 5th century CE)

img_5800.jpg“Take roses fresh from the flower bed, strip off the leaves, remove the white from the petals and put them in the mortar; pour over some fish sauce and rub fine. Add a glass of fish sauce and strain the juice through the colander. This done, take four cooked calf’s brains, skin them and remove the nerves; crush eight scruples of pepper moistened with the juice and rub with the brains; thereupon break eight eggs, add a glass of wine, a glass of raisin wine and a little oil. Meanwhile grease a pan, place it on the hot ashes or in the hot bath in which pour the above described material; when the mixture is cooked in the double boiler, sprinkle it with ground pepper and serve.”
~ De re coquinaria (Apicius) Book 4, Chapter 2, ca. 5th century CE

I’m a big fan of eating brains.

My Roman ancestors felt the same way. The Roman cookbook Apicius contains recipes for brain sausages, brain-stuffed squash fritters and rose patina (patina de rosis), a baked dish of scrambled brain and eggs, flavored with roses.

Except among zombies and evil meteors, eating brains is far less popular globally than it once was. Modern science has found brains to be very high in cholesterol, and also tarnished their reputation by associating them with a deadly epidemic. That would be mad cow disease, properly known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). In the 1990s, a BSE outbreak in the UK caused a global panic, leading to the deaths of over 200 people and the slaughter of 4.4 million potentially-infected cattle.

Caused by the malfunctioning of DNA proteins called prions, BSE results in holes in the victim’s brain tissue (hence the name “spongiform”), leading to neural degeneration and death. It can be contracted from eating the meat and especially the brain of an infected animal, and transmission is unaffected by cooking. Which raises a reasonable question–didn’t the brain-craving Romans suffer from mad cow disease? Not exactly.

A Medieval copy of Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, Vegetius’s guide to veterinary medicine. The prion disease of goats and sheep mentioned within might be scrapie, which was formally described by science in 1732. Photo by Sailko (2013).

BSE is not the only prion disease, and similar livestock illnesses are described by ancient writers such as Hippocrates in 400 BCE and Vegetius, who lived at the same time when Apicius was composed (4th and 5th centuries CE). But most prion diseases cannot pass from animal to human, making mad cow disturbingly unique. There is no ancient account of a person contracting a prion disease, although Hippocrates mistakenly conflated prion disease in animals with epilepsy in humans because of their similar symptoms.

BSE was first identified in 1986, and its development and spread were directly linked to the industrialization of 20th-century farming. Undesirable bits from slaughtered cattle, including their brains, were ground up and fed to living cattle as a protein supplement called MBM or “meat and bone meal”, inadvertently infecting the animals with prion disease (and giving me grisly flashbacks to Soylent Green and the “soap” from Cloud Atlas). Because of the ’90s BSE outbreak, most countries have banned the use of MBM in feed for ruminant (cud-chewing) animals such as cows and sheep, although it is still an ingredient in commercial pet food.  As a further precaution, since prion diseases do not manifest until adulthood, it is now illegal in many countries to sell brain from an adult cow. Which is to say that this recipe, which uses calf brains, is just about as safe as it was in Roman times.


The sweet wine in the original Roman recipe, called passum, was made from raisins, making it a type of straw wine. Passum is still made in Italy today under the slightly-different name of passito. You can also use marsala, sherry, or Manischewitz.


The main ingredient, looking exactly how you would expect.

Apicius provides some unusually specific instructions about incorporating roses into this dish: take fresh roses, “cut off the white” (presumably separate the petals from the flowerheads), grind with fish sauce and strain. I attempted this with fresh roses and their flavor/scent did not carry over into the fish sauce, so I ended up using rosewater (or rose tea), which I made by soaking dried rose petals in hot water.

-2 calf’s or pig’s brains (available, fresh or frozen, from halal butchers and some Mexican or Asian grocery stores)
-4 beaten eggs
-1/3 cup rosewater
-1/3 cup fish sauce
-1/2 cup sweet cooking wine
-1 teaspoon black pepper
-rose petals for serving (optional)

Rinse the brains in cold water and pat dry. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, lower the heat and simmer the brains until they are gray and a fork can pierce them easily (about 10 minutes).

In a blender or food processor, combine brains with all the other ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour the liquid into a pie dish greased with olive oil.

Apicius instructs the chef to cook the dish by placing it in termospodio, “in the embers.” You can use a double boiler to replicate the even, gentle heat of hot coals. I balanced my 9-inch pie dish on top of a cast-iron pan filled with water and added a lid.

Cook the patina over low heat for 40-45 minutes, until a fork inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve with rose petals and more black pepper.


The flavor of brain resembles liver mousse, rich and creamy. The roses are an interesting addition, with a subtle flavor balanced by the sweetness of the wine. Like many baked Roman patinae, this one is soft and wet enough to require a spoon. Eat it by itself or with bread, while it’s still hot (nobody likes cold brains).